The God in Our Midst: A
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost. 
Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 11 July,

Tests for Proper
15(B):  2 Sam 6.1-5,12b-19; Ps 24; Eph
1.3-14; Mk 6.14-29.


David and all the people
with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of
God, which is called by the name of the 
Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
(2 Sam 6.2)


Returning to gathered
worship, in what we devoutly hope is the endgame of Covid, is I hope a source
of joy and elation to all of us.  Perhaps
not the tambourine shaking, dancing in the streets elation of the Israelites in
our first reading (that would be rather un-Anglican!), but still an uplifting
experience.   I wonder though if, after
long months of sitting in front of a screen to go to church, do we feel closer
to God now that we are back in church?  
Today’s first reading from 2 Samuel invites us to think about how and where
God is present with us, and what that presence might actually mean should we
take it seriously.

Today’s story of David triumphantly
bringing the ark into Jerusalem is a powerful story of feeling closer to God,
even to having God in their midst.  By
this point in the story of Israel, the ark had long been the most powerful symbol
of God’s presence among God’s people. 
The book of Exodus tells of how God instructed Moses to make the ark, as
both a repository for the stone tablets of the law and the covenant, as well as
a sort of throne for the divine presence from which “I will deliver to you all
my commands for the Israelites” (Ex 25). 

David, now the king of Israel,
has just captured Jerusalem and brings the ark into his new city as a sort of
capstone to his success, marking his partnership with God as the ruler of God’s
people.  Sadly, David’s reign goes wrong,
as human endeavours do, his heirs don’t measure up, Jerusalem is captured and
the ark is lost to history (thus paving the way for the film, Raiders of the
Lost Ark plot).  God does not abandon
Israel, and sends his Son, the true heir of David, to be king and saviour of
the new Israel, the church.   This time
there is no second ark, no physical reminder of God’s presence.   The presence of God this time is spiritual, as
found in the many spiritual gifts that Paul joyfully lists in our second
reading from Ephesians. These gifts – blessings, redemption, adoption,
forgiveness, redemption – don’t have a physical dimension, but they live within
us just the same.

All that being said, as
human beings, created of the earth, we seem to be hardwired to need physical
connections with the divine.  Certain
things focus our attention on truths that we can barely express or articulate.  To be sure, it’s not just churches that focus
us on the transcendent – we are strangely moved by the beauties of nature, the
innocence of children, and by music, art, and architecture.  But churches have a special appeal to point
many of us to the divine.

Throughout Covid I’ve
considered myself truly fortunate that I could walk into our two sacred spaces
here at All Saints and bask in their beauty and stillness.  An empty church seems to whisper to us,
saying something barely audible about the beauty of God’s holiness and the
witness of generations whose prayers and hymns still seem to echo from the walls.

Of course, those of you
whose ministries involve the maintenance and care of the church buildings and
features may not have much time for mystical appreciations.   Your thoughts go all too readily to  wet drywall, aging wiring, fading fabric,
leaking roofs, and a myriad of other cares and concerns.   These practical concerns remind us that the
church is just a building, and theologically we know that our faith is about
far more than just buildings.  Jesus,
like the prophets before us, called us to serve the poor and seek justice,
which is wy we leave church “to love and serve the Lord”. Church is thus a way
station, a safe harbour where God’s people find their bearings and get supplies
to continue their voyage.

So the church building,
and the objects within it, like King David’s ark, is a physical thing that
points God’s people to the divine.   It’s
like a hyperlink on a webpage that takes us somewhere else, as could be said of
many sacred objects.  But before we grow
too dismissive and say, “Oh, holy things are just _things_, just symbols”, let’s
take a moment to think, with some caution, of holiness itself.   Do you remember towards the end of the
Raiders of the Lost Ark film when the Nazis dare to open the ark and die
horribly because they never understood it and thus profaned God’s holiness?  The idea behind the film is the Old Testament
theme of no one being able to fully see the holiness of God and live (Ex

It’s worth taking a moment
to think about the sheer holiness and awesomeness of the God in our midst.  This God could never be confined to a church
building, waiting for us to return after lockdown.  This God is everywhere because this God is the
creator of all things, the righteous one who hates evil and injustice, dwells
among us.  It’s fortunate for us that
this God loves us.  As I like to quote
from C.S. Lewis, God is like Aslan the Lion in the Narnia books, loving and
kind, but still a lion, and still potentially dangerous.  

We know this dangerous and
yet loving God in a different way than David and his Israelites did.  As Christians we know God as Jesus, the Word
who took flesh and lived among us as child and man, and who as Paul says in
Ephesians rescues us and adopts us into God’s family.  We should celebrate this God with fear and
joy, mindful of this immense power which, “working within us, can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine”.